A framework for thinking about cyberspace
December 1, 2010
Daniel Downes suggests in Interactive Realism: The Poetics Of Cyberspace (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005) that it is people who construct social reality through their interactions, critiquing the “transformative turn” in media studies. Distinguishing clearly between the Internet (a communication system) and cyberspace (a socially constructed environment for human exchange), Downes provides what he refers to as a framework for exploring the metaphors and images used in cyberspace to represent and model social reality. He explains how symbolic interactions are linked to the technologies used to create, store, and transmit these interactions and to their social context. While Downes claims to provide a framework for the study of cyberspace, he barely scratches the surface sketching an approach, it is far from a comprehensive framework one can easily apply. None the less, this book does a good job of moving the discussion beyond the simple utopian vs. dystopian debate on the future of cyberspace and our thinking about media ecology beyond Innis and McLuhan and presents more refined models of media change by recent thinkers like Mark Poster and Manuel Castells. If you are intrigued by the phenomenon of culture moving online, this book provides a good theoretical framework to start thinking about what cyberspace is, and what its potential might be.